With Thanksgiving finally here, I was pulled toward a recent donation in our collection that I found to be a fantastic and thought-provoking read for closing out Native American Heritage Month. Curated by Arlene Hirschfelder and Beverly R. Singer, Rising Voices: Writings of Young Native Americans is a collection of essays, poems, and stories from the late 1880s to the early 1990s. Hirschfelder speaks of the young authors featured in the collection: “their words bear vivid, often eloquent witness to the realities of their lives over the past hundred years. They have much to tell us”.
Separated into the categories of Identity, Family, Homelands, Ritual and Ceremony, Education, and Harsh Realities. Each section includes writings that exemplify a part of the youth’s life. From gorgeous descriptions of mesas to warm and comforting home lives, there is also the truth of the hardships and poverty Native Americans were forced into, and many still live in today. The young writers’ strong sense of awareness and personal values ring throughout the collection, especially as we move into modern times.
Rising Voices is a beautiful and unique collection that spans multiple viewpoints and lives of young Native Americans throughout the last century. Readers are treated to breathtaking poetry and heart-wrenching essays that stick with you long after. This collection includes work from elementary schoolers to graduating seniors, making this the perfect selection for any aged Book Club Group. There is a wealth of continued reading and discussions to be had, especially on the different backgrounds and viewpoints of each author. Some have a deep sense of self and justice, while others bask in the love from their families. My favorite reading, If I Were a Pony, is a collaborative poem by Navajo children where the speaker wishes they were a pinto pony so they could run away to live a carefree life out on the mesa. It is a good exercise to delve into what the author’s were feeling, and what purpose does each excerpt serve in this wider narrative created by Hirschfelder and Singer.
For a further example of discussion topics, one particular section that stood out to me was Education—pieces included covered topics from US Indian Boarding Schools that worked to assimilate Native American youth from their culture to more modern school efforts to reintroduce students to what has been lost.
Carlisle Indian School, whose mission was to “Kill the Indian, save the Man,” often published propagandist essays and stories from their students as a way to fundraise and maintain a good social image. One essay titled Opportunity, written by Alvis M. Morrin in 1914, extols the virtue of the off-reservation school. He speaks on famous Native Americans, such as former Vice President Charles Curtis, and shows his reverence towards the perceived landscape of progress while still maintaining his heritage:
“Our lot is easier than theirs [our forefathers], for race prejudice has been overcome, and a beneficent Government is giving the Indian youth the opportunities which once belonged only to the white man. Open doors to any vocation are waiting for the Indian to enter.”
In stark contrast, a more modern excerpt included from 1996 when Holy Rosary High School in South Dakota introduced a new course called Modern Indian Psychology in an effort to teach their young Lakota students the importance of their history and the cultural values of their people. In Something Really Different, students reported feeling a sense of belonging and pride they had never had before, highlighting the importance that young Native Americans continue to learn about their history.
“Before this course, we didn’t even know that Indians were important or that it was important for us to know Indian history and values.” – Patrick Kills Crow and Mary Crazy Thunder
“Now I am glad I am an Indian. Before I was ashamed of it.” – Francis Clifford
How are these student’s voices being used? And are they being promoted for their benefit or someone else’s? And what purpose do they serve in the anthology?
If you’re interested in requesting Rising Voices for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 7 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
To see more of our Native American Voices book club titles, visit the link here.
Hirschfelder, Arlene & Singer, Beverly. Rising Voices. HarperPerennial. 1996.